Making it Personal by Getting Close

For many who work in mission driven organizations, the mission itself is little more than words touted on the company’s website or documented on posters in conference rooms. It suggests a purpose, an identity, but those words contain little of the essence of the work, of the day-to-day reality, of the meaning. They are, after all, just words.

We all have a transactional relationship with our jobs. We give our time, energy, and commitment… and they give us money, benefits, and structure for our days. This has always been the case and there’s nothing wrong with that. But for many who are engaged in the work itself, it’s about something else as well: it’s about helping those who struggle, who have been dealt a difficult hand, and who experience great challenge. For these employees, it runs deeper than mere words.

In my experience, the personal relationship to the mission among those who sit atop an organization, most especially board members and the executive team, is an important determinant of the organization’s overall mission effectiveness. If the leaders of the organization are mostly or solely in the “transactional” camp, then that organization is likely to fall down when it comes to mission impact.

If you lead such an organization, ask yourself this question: When it comes to mission, is it personal?

In other words, do you feel the mission of that organization in your bones? Do you care, on a personal level, about the work itself? Do you understand it, from the ground up and right down there in the weeds?

Bryan Stevenson, in his excellent book Just Mercy described the advice his grandmother once gave to him: “You can’t understand most of the important things from a distance, Bryan. You have to get close…” He was describing one of the important tenets of his work to find justice for those unfairly charged or sentenced for serious crimes. His own efforts to secure justice has largely been built upon this notion of getting closer.

So, if you lead a mission driven organization, how close to the work are you? How close to the personnel who do the work are you? And how close to the clients or patients are you?

I recommend that leadership teams (and boards) prioritize getting closer to the mission. This extends far beyond hearing moving and motivational testimonials from the comforts of conference rooms but rather getting out into the field and, with appropriate precautions and privacy measures (of course), actually seeing the work in action. Hearing patient stories. Understanding what staff do. And what their challenges are. Why they might get frustrated. What they need to be more impactful.

Understand how your organization matters, why it matters, and how it can matter more.

When leaders prioritize getting closer in this way, they make better decisions, become more connected to the mission, and are more credibly relevant to their staff.

“You have to get close…”

2 responses to “Making it Personal by Getting Close”

  1. Wise insight!


    1. Thanks, Beth.


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